On a blistering Sunday afternoon in a tiny subterranean room in one of the oldest pubs in Collingwood, magic was about to unfold. As a guest of the incomparable Steve Jager, the man behind the Australian Bushrangers page on Facebook as ell as familiar face to those who have seen The Legend of Ben Hall, Lawless: The Real Bushrangers or been bailed up by the nefarious Captain Red, I got the opportunity to see the new musical Moonlite, the first such depiction of Andrew George Scott to date. After stumbling across the poster artwork on Instagram I had been learning more about the production and plugging it wherever possible (as many of my followers will be familiar with).
Moonlite is being performed in the basement of the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood as part of the 2018 Midsumma Festival. The location is brilliant for it connects the show to the real stories as Moonlite was rumoured to have frequented the Grace Darling in his heyday. To get to the performance space you must stomp down a series of stone steps that is eerily reminiscent of Pentridge prison where Scott spent the majority of his time in Australia. Written and directed by Gabriel Bergmoser, Moonlite is an exploration of the man and the legend as perceived by those around him. Bergmoser is an experienced and decorated writer for such projects in addition to his reviews through his Movie Maintenance podcast and website Den of Geek. It should also be pointed out that Moonlite is a musical featuring music by Daniel Nixon that really creates the meat on the bones of this production, but more on that later.
The through-line of Moonlite is a discussion between Falconer McDonald of Wantabadgery Station and two of Moonlite’s acolytes Thomas Rogan and Gus Wernicke. As the boys try to rationalise their adoration of their captain we see flashes of the real Andrew Scott poking through the holes in the veneer of a roguish hero Scott has masked himself with. It is decidedly more interested in questioning the validity of any opinion about Scott than depicting history accurately, which works tremendously well in this context. Scott’s life is so confusing to pin down specifically because so many untruths and half-truths were told and published even in his own lifetime that it has confused and baffled historians ever since. When we reach the rousing conclusion of the piece we are not left with definitive answers about who Scott was and what to think of him, rather with an understanding that there is no black and white answer. This could be problematic for some, but on this occasion it was clear that the moral ambiguity was just another added delight for the audience, many of whom would most likely know little to nothing about who Captain Moonlite was before taking their seats.
The musical is a medium that many turn their nose up at due to consistent tropes about characters unrealistically breaking into song. Moonlite‘s music is a wonderful exception to that rule. The songs feel organic to the storytelling and never take the audience out of the moment. There are some real gems among the musical interludes including a reworking of “Star of the County Down” to illustrate the affection between Scott and Nesbitt and an upbeat lark depicting the trial for the Mount Egerton bank robbery.
The cast were brilliant performers who really worked hard to ensure the magic of the story kept the audience spellbound. This was a cast employed for their talent rather than their resemblance to the historical characters and this proves to be the key to the show’s success. Ryan Smedley’s earnestness as Nesbitt (here spelled Nesbit), Megan Scolyer-Gray’s vitality and sense of fun for Wernicke (here spelled Werneke), James Coley’s balancing act between acolyte and infidel as Rogan, Daniel Cosgrove’s fierce and moving performance as Falconer McDonald (in this production named Faulkner) and Katy Nethercote’s ever changing supporting characters from gentlewoman to judge were the driving force of the piece that helped to tie everything together around the delightfully camp and dominating performance by Tim Constantine as Captain Moonlite. This cast are funny, engaging and memorable and are an absolute asset to the production.
Moonlite is running during the Midsumma Festival until Febuary fourth, but tickets have sold like hotcakes with every performance sold out. Later on there are plans to do a regional tour, which is a brilliant idea and will hopefully see the show head to many of the locations associated with this amazing story. If you missed out on seeing the show this time around, fear not as there will be future opportunities to experience it. The production team are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to have the show professionally recorded and produced as an album which is a great opportunity to support local artists and a great show. Moonlite is a rollicking good time from start to end with wonderful performances and clever writing from one of the country’s emerging talents. It was certainly a privilege to get the chance to go and see this performance, well done to all involved.
To check out the Moonlite crowdfunding campaign and donate, go here.
To check out Bitten By Productions on Facebook, go here.
To read about the process of putting Moonlite together go here.